Psychology professor Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist who led the study, told New Scientist that in the past, rats could recognize objects, pinch dead latches, and navigate labyrinths. But she and her colleagues wanted to see if rats could learn the more demanding task of operating a moving vehicle.
“They learned to navigate the car in a unique way, and engaged in steering patterns that they’d never come up with,” said Lambert.
So you do not believe this is just a stunt for the talk show circuit at night, here’s an important finding: Learning to drive a car seemed to have a relaxing effect on the pest, as measured by corticosterone levels, a hormone that peaks in stressful situations and dehydroepiandrosterone that counteracts stress. The ratio of the two hormones was reversed in the rats and increased the more they drove.
The rats, who lived in a complex and stimulating environment, learned to drive much faster than the rats who lived in a desolate lab, Lambert told Business Insider.
Lambert has apparently found in earlier work that rats have less stress after having mastered difficult tasks such as digging up buried food. The team also found that the rats that drove themselves were less stressed than rats being driven around in remote-controlled cars as passengers.
The practical finding from this is that researchers could use driving tests like these instead of traditional labyrinth tests to study, for example, the effects of Parkinson’s disease on motor skills and spatial awareness.
Followed by follow-up to understand how rats learn to drive and why it seems to reduce stress. We can not help but wonder if this could include the introduction of the scourge known as traffic into the equation.